Monday, November 28, 2011

List Building 101: Playstyle

I've been seeing a lot of articles on the internet lately discussing list-building.  What I've been finding most interesting is that these articles are popping up on web sites that have traditionally been focused more on Warhammer 40k.  Perhaps it's a sign of the extreme growth that the Warmachine/Hordes community has seen in the last year, but I think that one thing that is often neglected in these list building articles is the issue of Expectations.  What do I mean by that?  I'm talking about both what you expect of your own style of play, which I mentioned yesterday when I was talking about faction loyalty.

Building a list for Warmachine/Hordes is a tricky endeavor.  One thing that you must consider when making a list is that there are over 120 different warcasters/warlocks, each with their own theme force, in addition to taking any combination of units from their faction.  This means that it's impossible to see every possible warcaster/warlock in your particular gaming environment, and that's doubly true for tournaments where you're only going to be playing a couple games.  For comparison, Warhammer 40k has 14 armies and 5 of those are variations on Space Marines.  Without any judgment attached, I can objectively say that as a Warmachine/Hordes player, it's harder to anticipate what you will see across the table from you in any given environment.  What you can expect, however, is to see one several playstyles which I have observed in my time playing the game.

When building a list for yourself, you need to make sure that you have realistic expectations about how it will perform.  What this essentially means is "INTERWEBZ BE DAMNED!"  There are many different playstyles out there to consider and you should expect to build a list that fits your favorite playstyle, and isn't just a copy of something you've seen on the internet.  In general, you can have an offensive or a defensive playstyle, and there are several other styles that I find fit into those two categories:
Alpha strike - striking first and striking hard, crippling key models of your opponent
Assassination - your only win condition is getting to their caster/warlock to deliver the killing blow 
Domination - relying on your superior firepower/melee prowess to utterly destroy your enemy
Attrition - taking hits better than your opponent and eventually overcoming them through numbers/toughness
Control - placing terrain or moving models such that you control where models can/cannot go 
Denial - preventing your opponent from using their best models and striking their soft underbelly

Additionally, each of the above playstyles can be achieved through any of the three following lists:
Heavies - achieved using a comparatively large number of heavy warjacks/warbeasts
Combined Arms - a balanced approach with heavy-hitters and infantry units
Infantry - few heavy warjacks/warbeasts and lots of boots on the ground (more common in Warmachine)
Magic - characterized by lots of warcaster/warlock spells, channellers, or spell-casting models (more common with Cryx and in Hordes)

A great infantry attrition warcaster
The above styles of play are very general and each faction can perform any of the above in various ways.  Similarly, the same warcaster/warlock can run a different style of game depending on how you want to run them.  Mohsar, for example, can play a game of control using pillars of salt, or he can play an assassination game using infantry to get him to teleport close to the opposing warlock.  Naturally, there can be some overlap between playstyles like denial and control, as they are both achieving a similar goal, but I think of denial involving debuffs, preventing charges, or hit-and-run tactics, whereas control casters will move models around the field.

eMakeda is a beast-heavy alpha striker
Take a moment and look at the styles listed above.  How does your particular faction achieve any of those styles?  Which warcasters/warlocks can achieve those styles?  For example, Skorne really loves to dominate the battlefield with their melee prowess, but can also play a good attrition game with the right warlocks.  Circle and Legion have a good number of warlocks who like to alpha strike, but also have their fair share of denial and control warlocks.  In Warmachine, Cygnar has a really diverse bunch of warcasters, and as a faction they can play any of the above styles - Kraye for the alpha strike, Caine to assassinate, eNemo can dominate the board with his warjacks, Darius runs a great attrition game, and the Haleys are great at control and denial.  Perhaps that is why Cygnar is such a popular faction.

The Old Witch is good at denial and assassination
The next time you think about creating a list, ask yourself what kinds of tools the warcaster/warlock you are choosing has at their disposal.  Do they fit into a particular style?  In this game, you're usually at your best when you build with that theme in-mind.  If I'm going to make a list for pKaya, I want to really emphasize dominating the board with my superior warbeasts, but if I'm making a list for her epic form, I really want to take advantage of the tools she has available for her to get the alpha strike instead, or even an assassination.  Conversely, you should be aware of what you are likely to see, and what styles will likely cause problems for you, but we'll discuss that later when I discuss meta-gaming.

Kallus is an excellent at attrition with lots of infantry
While the internet says that eKaya is an amazing tournament warlock, I often find that I'm really not very good with her.  She doesn't really "meld" with my playstyle and I really don't think the way I should with her.  I find that I am a much more defensive player and really enjoy playing attrition or denial warcasters rather than the more offensive playstyles.  Before considering how to build out your list, you should really look at the playstyles you enjoy the most, and if you're not sure, then try playing lots of different casters/warlocks.  I've only just recently discovered that I really enjoy attrition, so get out there and try some things out, but make sure your choices for your list aren't just there because "the internet says so", but make sure you have a specific purpose in mind for your particular playstyle.

Next time I'll talk about what to expect from both your local and the broader 'meta-game' and what you can do to use it to your advantage.
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